Investing in the Manufacturing Resurgence

March 12, 2013
Lenze’s new facility represents one facet of the company’s focus on investment designed to take advantage of the current boost in North American manufacturing, particularly in the automotive industry.

I had the opportunity last week to visit Lenze’s relatively new 100,000 sq.-ft. facility in Glendale Heights, Ill. The site opened in early 2012. Motor assembly is the principal operation performed at this facility. The site has the capacity to build up to 50,000 gearboxes a year. Currently some 14,000 gearboxes are being produced there annually, but the large site was selected specifically for its growth potential.

“We’re very optimistic about 2013 and 2014,” said Chuck Edwards, president of Lenze Americas. “Now’s the time to be aggressive with investments.”

One of the key pieces of motor technology being produced at this facility is a customized, integrated motor/drive made for a major automotive manufacturer. The integrated motor/drive device leverages a custom Protec drive and Lenze motor configuration designed for decentralized motor control along this automotive customer’s new assembly lines.

The use of decentralized intelligence on large production lines is gaining increased acceptance because of the ability to reduce the load on overall system control.

“Lenze’s expertise in mechatronic applications such as this is what helped us win this big automotive application,” said Edwards. The term mechatronic refers to automation devices that combine mechanical, electrical and software technologies.

Edwards told me the automotive customer (whose name could not be released) that ordered these custom motor/drives did so to power and control the addition of new production lines being added to an existing facility. These new lines are being added in response to the current upturn in automotive manufacturing here in the U.S., which is forecast to continue for at least the next two years.

Explaining the continued upturn in U.S.-based automotive manufacturing, Edwards cited investments by companies such as GM, Fiat and Volkswagen. “These companies are all making significant investments in the U.S. and Asia now, but not in Europe,” he said.

Market research recently released by MAPI supports Edwards’ assertion of a U.S. automotive manufacturing resurgence. According to MAPI, overall automotive “production was up 14 percent in the three months ending October 2012 compared with the same period one year ago. Production increased 29 percent for automobiles and showed a 6 percent gain for light trucks and utility vehicles. Auto parts production increased 17 percent over year-ago levels.”

MAPI sees this trend continuing at a steady pace for at least this year and the next. “Motor vehicles and parts production is forecast to increase 5 percent in 2013 and 4 percent in 2014, and then grow at an average 1 percent annual rate from 2015 to 2017. We expect auto and light truck sales to total 15.1 million units in 2013 and 15.6 million units in 2014, and average 16.5 million units from 2015 to 2017.”

On a side note, Lenze’s Tom Jensen will be presenting at The Automation Conference on the concept of centralized and decentralized drive strategies. To register for the conference, which will feature presentations from high-profile companies such as Coca-Cola, Altera, Nova Chemicals, Campbell’s and Baxter BioScience discussing their automation strategies, visit www.theautomationconference.com.

About the Author

David Greenfield, editor in chief | Editor in Chief

David Greenfield joined Automation World in June 2011. Bringing a wealth of industry knowledge and media experience to his position, David’s contributions can be found in AW’s print and online editions and custom projects. Earlier in his career, David was Editorial Director of Design News at UBM Electronics, and prior to joining UBM, he was Editorial Director of Control Engineering at Reed Business Information, where he also worked on Manufacturing Business Technology as Publisher. 

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